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22 January 2012

OPINION: From Sectarian to Multi-Religious Gatherings

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By Mirza A. Beg

The article “Surya Namaskar, Fatwa and Muslims“ by my friend Mike Ghause brought to my attention a rather juvenile endeavor by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mr. Chauhan. He wants to congregate the largest assembly of worshipers, to garner a place in the Guinness book of world records, beating the record held by Kazakhstan. Mr. Chauhan has asked the schools to participate, perhaps because it is easy to assemble a large crowd by collecting obligated student.

Every one knows, certainly the Chief Minister of a state should know that a pluralistic society respects all religions equally. A call from the Chief Minister, the chief authority of the state with jurisdiction over the schools with multi-religious body of student is a form of coercion of students from other religions.

Apparently a respected Muslim Qazi (Legal Scholar) advised (Fatwa) that the bowing to any other entity except God is un-Islamic and the Muslim Students should abstain.

I substantially agree with Mike’s views in his article. I might add that the Indian democracy has come a long way, but has not matured enough. Often unnecessary small misunderstandings among different religious communities have been exploited by the sectarian interests to injure the cohesion of the communities. At times they deteriorate in riots and loss of innocent lives.

The media often unknowingly misconstrues the verbiage of religious leaders to mean what it does not. ‘Fatwa’ is one loaded word that evokes exaggerated sectarian passions. Unmitigated and ill-explained opinions even when right can sow unnecessary dissension.

As juvenile as the desire of the Chief Minister is to get into the Guinness book, it offers a teachable moment for our society particularly the youth. Some of the following is well known, but perhaps not fully understood in all its implications:

India is a Pluralistic Democratic Republic. It honors all creeds and their right to worship or not to worship. The government should not promote, impose or suppress any set of beliefs. Such a society works better when we as individuals also honor and respect the belief of others and try to understand them. And when religious scholars or jurists give their opinions on social issues they should be extremely careful in the nuances of their verbiage.

From my childhood my friends and I have worshiped in our own ways, but that did not stop us in participation in the religious festivals of others. It was that much more fun, it created deeper understanding of others and closer friendships.

I do not have Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Christian, Jewish, or friends with other prefixes, but have friends whom I value for who they are and for our unselfish bonds. They also happen to belong to many other religions and beliefs.

If he does hanker for a place in the Guinness book of world records, it would be a lot better if the Chief Minister Chauhan invites people of all religions to come together and offer prayers in their own traditions at the same place and the same time for the betterment and amity in the country and perhaps the world as Mike has suggested. What a grand spectacle and occasion of amity it would be. Guinness may even have to open another category for the Multi-religious congregation of worship.

[Mirza A. Beg may be contacted at mirza.a.beg@gmail.com. His essays are available at http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/]

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